Amidah: Overview

 Notes on Structure

  • NAMES   There are various names for this set of blessings: Amidah (the standing prayer); the Shemoneh Esray (or "eighteen" since it originally was comprised of 18 blessings); and even Ha-Tefillah (the Prayer). 

  • PRIVATE and PUBLIC   The Amidah can be recited privately and also has a communal element to it (if recited in a minyan). It is part of our prayers three times a day, during Shacharit, Mincha and Ma'ariv services (plus one more time -- Musaf -- on Shabbatot).

  • WOW!  PLEASE??  THANKS! The Talmud (Brachot 34a) teaches that when you say the first three blessings of the Amidah, you are like one who praises an authority; during the middle blessings, you are like a person requesting gfits from them; and in the last three blessings, you resemble the grateful receiver of the gifts.

 

Kavannot/Prompts for Discussion

  • THE DANCE OF DAVENING   Before praying the Amidah, there is a custom to take three steps backward and three steps forward. What is the value/meaning for you of stepping back before you step forward?

  •  CHAI'er and CHAI'er   Why eighteen blessings?  Here are some ideas of the Talmud:

    • HISTORY LESSON    18 is the number of times God's name is mentioned in Psalm 29, which was recited in the ancient Temple service.

    • FAITHFUL NUMBER   18 is the number of times that God's name is mentioned in the Shema.

    • THE BODY THAT BOWS AND STRAIGHTENS   18 is the number of vertebrae in the human spine.

Background/context

The Amidah's various blessings originated in the early period of the Second Temple. After the destruction of the Temple, scholars came to understand that prayer could replace the sacrificial system as Service of the Heart. They formed the blessings into a structured whole -- a set of blessings that would be recited three times daily as a spiritual replacement for the daily sacrifices. This set of blessings originally had 18 blessings, and later a 19th blessing was added. Over time, the recitation of the Amidah has come to be the most holy, focused and important part of every prayer service.  (Click on the links to learn about each specific section of the Amidah. )